Emotional Sexton officially inducted into Poker Hall of Fame

8 November 2009

LAS VEGAS -- In a ceremony that was heartfelt, emotional and sometimes humorous, Mike Sexton -- aka The Ambassador of Poker -- was officially inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame Saturday night at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Sexton became the 38th member of the Hall of Fame, but was the lone inductee in this year's class. He got the nod in a vote by poker media and the living Hall of Famers over a list of nominees that included the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and former Main Event champions Tom McEvoy, Scotty Nguyen and Dan Harrington.

"To you other eight guys that were on the ballot, a piece of my induction goes out to you because you were all a big part of me making it here," Sexton said during his 20-minute speech in front of a packed room during the dinner break of the WSOP Main Event final table.

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Mike Sexton made a poignant and emotional acceptance speech at the 2009 Poker Hall of Fame dinner. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

"That's what makes my induction this year even special. The fact that I was voted in over such a great class of players who I feel will all be in the Hall of Fame someday."

After McEvoy, Doyle Brunson, Jack Binion and T.J. Cloutier opened the ceremony with some words that at times made it seem more like a roast than a Hall of Fame induction, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack took the stage and said the one word that would best describe Sexton would be "class." Sexton's older brother Tom was then called up to introduce Mike. The elder Sexton made a touching introduction for his brother, recapping his career and explaining why he was such a sure-fire candidate to make it into the Hall this year. Tom mentioned a saying that Las Vegas icon Steve Wynn has hanging in his office that says, "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."

"Mike was able to see the invisible for poker's growth," Tom said. "TV and the Internet led us into the poker boom and Mike was our point guard for both."

An amusing video montage was shown of Sexton's days as a World Poker Tour announcer along with his partner Vince Van Patten, who was in attendance, before Tom got down to the business of calling up his brother. Before he did so, he got teary-eyed as he talked about his parents, who have both passed away.

"Our mother passed away almost 30 years ago and it's a shame that she never got to see Mike on top of the poker world," he said as he choked up and the room went silent. "And our father died just a little over a year ago. He loved poker and he loved cheering Mike on during his career. I know that he's watching over us tonight with a big smile on his face."

During his speech, Mike Sexton, 61, thanked a host of people who he said were responsible for his success, many of whom were in attendance. Of the eight other players nominated along with Sexton, Negreanu and McEvoy were in the room, but Sexton went on to speak about each person and explain what they meant to his career. He thanked two friends from back in North Carolina, where he played the game avidly before becoming a pro.

"We used to play a weekly game so deep in the woods of North Carolina that I swear if anything ever happened to us they never would have found us till this day," he said with a big smile. "And then we used to play a game twice a week every week at the same apartment for eight years. Everybody in town knew about it. It's one of the Eight Wonders of the World that we never got either held up or busted."

Sexton also had a sincere thanks to Linda Johnson, who hired him as a columnist for CardPlayer magazine. He added that Johnson should someday get a nod as a Poker Hall of Famer for her contributions. Sexton noted that the two most influential people in the history of poker were WPT founder Steve Lipscomb and Binion. He asked both men to stand up and take a bow for both their efforts for the game and for their help in his career.

Before closing his speech, Sexton thanked his entire family, saying he has been blessed his entire life with a great support system. He then got emotional as he spoke about the "love of his life," his wife Karen, and the youngest person in the audience, his 1-year-old son Ty.

"Being a Hall of Famer allows me to stay among the greatest players in the game for the rest of my life," Sexton said. "But even when I'm gone, Ty will be able to enjoy it. That makes me very proud."

* * *

During his turn with the microphone, Brunson called Sexton "the greatest ambassador that poker has ever known." But Texas Dolly then said he was going to tell some stories about the "real Mike Sexton" and fired off the line of the night. Sexton, Brunson said, had the propensity to bet on "anything and everything" back in the "good old days."

"I'm not sure if a lot of people know this, but Mike loved to bet on sports back before he had all of this money," Brunson said as the room broke into laughter. "In fact, there's a island somewhere in the Caribbean called Sexton Island where all bookmakers go to retire."

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T.J. Cloutier and Doyle Brunson were on stage to welcome Mike Sexton into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

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Tom Sexton introduced his younger brother with an emotional speech on Saturday night. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

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Phil Hellmuth shares a word with Mike Sexton during the Poker Hall of Fame dinner Saturday night. (photo by Vin Narayanan)




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